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Les forceurs de blocus. English

Jules Verne

  Produced by Norman M. Wolcott

  The Blockade Runners by Jules Verne

  [Redactor's Note: _The Blockade Runners_ (number V008 in the T&Mnumerical listing of Verne's works) is a translation of _Les forceursde blocus_ (1871). _The Blockade Runners_, a novella, was includedalong with _A Floating City_ in the first english and french editionsof this work. This translation, which follows that of Sampson and Low(UK) and Scribners (US) is by "N. D'Anvers", pseudonymn for Mrs. ArthurBell (d. 1933) who also translated other Verne books. It is alsoincluded in the fifteen volume Parke edition of the works of JulesVerne (1911). There is another translation by Henry Frith which waspublished by Routledge (1876).

  Both of these stories are about ships; _Floating City_ about thelargest ship of the time, the _Great Eastern_, and _Blockade Runners_about one of the fastest, the _Dolphin_.

  This text version was prepared from public domain sources by Norman M.Wolcott, 2003, [email protected]]

  The Blockade Runners

  Table of Contents



  Chapter I


  The Clyde was the first river whose waters were lashed into foam by asteam-boat. It was in 1812 when the steamer called the _Comet_ ranbetween Glasgow and Greenock, at the speed of six miles an hour. Sincethat time more than a million of steamers or packet-boats have pliedthis Scotch river, and the inhabitants of Glasgow must be as familiaras any people with the wonders of steam navigation.

  However, on the 3rd of December, 1862, an immense crowd, composed ofshipowners, merchants, manufacturers, workmen, sailors, women, andchildren, thronged the muddy streets of Glasgow, all going in thedirection of Kelvin Dock, the large shipbuilding premises belonging toMessrs. Tod & MacGregor. This last name especially proves that thedescendants of the famous Highlanders have become manufacturers, andthat they have made workmen of all the vassals of the old clanchieftains.

  Kelvin Dock is situated a few minutes' walk from the town, on the rightbank of the Clyde. Soon the immense timber-yards were thronged withspectators; not a part of the quay, not a wall of the wharf, not afactory roof showed an unoccupied place; the river itself was coveredwith craft of all descriptions, and the heights of Govan, on the leftbank, swarmed with spectators.

  There was, however, nothing extraordinary in the event about to takeplace; it was nothing but the launching of a ship, and this was aneveryday affair with the people of Glasgow. Had the _Dolphin_,then--for that was the name of the ship built by Messrs. Tod &MacGregor--some special peculiarity? To tell the truth, it had none.

  It was a large ship, about 1,500 tons, in which everything combined toobtain superior speed. Her engines, of 500 horse-power, were from theworkshops of Lancefield Forge; they worked two screws, one on eitherside the stern-post, completely independent of each other. As for thedepth of water the _Dolphin_ would draw, it must be veryinconsiderable; connoisseurs were not deceived, and they concludedrightly that this ship was destined for shallow straits. But all theseparticulars could not in any way justify the eagerness of the people:taken altogether, the _Dolphin_ was nothing more or less than anordinary ship. Would her launching present some mechanical difficultyto be overcome? Not any more than usual. The Clyde had received many aship of heavier tonnage, and the launching of the _Dolphin_ would takeplace in the usual manner.

  In fact, when the water was calm, the moment the ebb-tide set in, theworkmen began to operate. Their mallets kept perfect time falling onthe wedges meant to raise the ship's keel: soon a shudder ran throughthe whole of her massive structure; although she had only been slightlyraised, one could see that she shook, and then gradually began to glidedown the well greased wedges, and in a few moments she plunged into theClyde. Her stern struck the muddy bed of the river, then she raisedherself on the top of a gigantic wave, and, carried forward by herstart, would have been dashed against the quay of the Govantimber-yards, if her anchors had not restrained her.

  The launch had been perfectly successful, the _Dolphin_ swayed quietlyon the waters of the Clyde, all the spectators clapped their hands whenshe took possession of her natural element, and loud hurrahs arose fromeither bank.

  But wherefore these cries and this applause? Undoubtedly the most eagerof the spectators would have been at a loss to explain the reason ofhis enthusiasm. What was the cause, then, of the lively interestexcited by this ship? Simply the mystery which shrouded herdestination; it was not known to what kind of commerce she was to beappropriated, and in questioning different groups the diversity ofopinion on this important subject was indeed astonishing.

  However, the best informed, at least those who pretended to be so,agreed in saying that the steamer was going to take part in theterrible war which was then ravaging the United States of America, butmore than this they did not know, and whether the _Dolphin_ was aprivateer, a transport ship, or an addition to the Federal marine waswhat no one could tell.

  "Hurrah!" cried one, affirming that the _Dolphin_ had been built forthe Southern States.

  "Hip! hip! hip!" cried another, swearing that never had a faster boatcrossed to the American coasts.

  Thus its destination was unknown, and in order to obtain any reliableinformation one must be an intimate friend, or, at any rate, anacquaintance of Vincent Playfair & Co., of Glasgow.

  A rich, powerful, intelligent house of business was that of VincentPlayfair & Co., in a social sense, an old and honourable family,descended from those tobacco lords who built the finest quarters of thetown. These clever merchants, by an act of the Union, had founded thefirst Glasgow warehouse for dealing in tobacco from Virginia andMaryland. Immense fortunes were realised; mills and foundries sprang upin all parts, and in a few years the prosperity of the city attainedits height.

  The house of Playfair remained faithful to the enterprising spirit ofits ancestors, it entered into the most daring schemes, and maintainedthe honour of English commerce. The principal, Vincent Playfair, a manof fifty, with a temperament essentially practical and decided,although somewhat daring, was a genuine shipowner. Nothing affected himbeyond commercial questions, not even the political side of thetransactions, otherwise he was a perfectly loyal and honest man.

  However, he could not lay claim to the idea of building and fitting upthe _Dolphin_; she belonged to his nephew, James Playfair, a fine youngman of thirty, the boldest skipper of the British merchant marine.

  It was one day at the Tontine coffee-room under the arcades of the townhall, that James Playfair, after having impatiently scanned theAmerican journal, disclosed to his uncle an adventurous scheme.

  "Uncle Vincent," said he, coming to the point at once, "there are twomillions of pounds to be gained in less than a month."

  "And what to risk?" asked Uncle Vincent.

  "A ship and a cargo."

  "Nothing else?"

  "Nothing, except the crew and the captain, and that does not reckon formuch."

  "Let us see," said Uncle Vincent.

  "It is all seen," replied James Playfair. "You have read the _Tribune_,the _New York Herald, The Times_, the _Richmond Inquirer_, the_American Review_?"

  "Scores of times, nephew."

  "You believe, like me, that the war of the United States will last along time still?"

  "A very long time."

  "You know how much this struggle will affect the interests of England,and especially those of Glasgow?"

  "And more especially still the house of
Playfair & Co.," replied UncleVincent.

  "Theirs especially," added the young Captain.

  "I worry myself about it every day, James, and I cannot think withoutterror of the commercial disasters which this war may produce; not butthat the house of Playfair is firmly established, nephew; at the sametime it has correspondents which may fail. Ah! those Americans,slave-holders or Abolitionists, I have no faith in them!"

  If Vincent Playfair was wrong in thus speaking with respect to thegreat principles of humanity, always and everywhere superior topersonal interests, he was, nevertheless, right from a commercial pointof view. The most important material was failing at Glasgow, the cottonfamine became every day more threatening, thousands of workmen werereduced to living upon public charity. Glasgow possessed 25,000 looms,by which 625,000 yards of cotton were spun daily; that is to say, fiftymillions of pounds yearly. From these numbers it may be guessed whatdisturbances were caused in the commercial part of the town when theraw material failed altogether. Failures were hourly taking place, themanufactories were closed, and the workmen were dying of starvation.

  It was the sight of this great misery which had put the idea of hisbold enterprise into James Playfair's head.

  "I will go for cotton, and will get it, cost what it may."

  But, as he also was a merchant as well as his uncle Vincent, heresolved to carry out his plan by way of exchange, and to make hisproposition under the guise of a commercial enterprise.

  "Uncle Vincent," said he, "this is my idea."

  "Well, James?"

  "It is simply this: we will have a ship built of superior sailingqualities and great bulk."

  "That is quite possible."

  "We will load her with ammunition of war, provisions, and clothes."

  "Just so."

  "I will take the command of this steamer, I will defy all the ships ofthe Federal marine for speed, and I will run the blockade of one of thesouthern ports."

  "You must make a good bargain for your cargo with the Confederates, whowill be in need of it," said his uncle.

  "And I shall return laden with cotton."

  "Which they will give you for nothing."

  "As you say, Uncle. Will it answer?"

  "It will; but shall you be able to get there?"

  "I shall, if I have a good ship."

  "One can be made on purpose. But the crew?"

  "Oh, I will find them. I do not want many men; enough to work with,that is all. It is not a question of fighting with the Federals, butdistancing them."

  "They shall be distanced," said Uncle Vincent, in a peremptory tone;"but now, tell me, James, to what port of the American coast do youthink of going?"

  "Up to now, Uncle, ships have run the blockade of New Orleans,Wilmington, and Savannah, but I think of going straight to Charleston;no English boat has yet been able to penetrate into the harbour, exceptthe _Bermuda_. I will do like her, and, if my ship draws but verylittle water, I shall be able to go where the Federalists will not beable to follow."

  "The fact is," said Uncle Vincent, "Charleston is overwhelmed withcotton; they are even burning it to get rid of it."

  "Yes," replied James; "besides, the town is almost invested; Beauregardis running short of provisions, and he will pay me a golden price formy cargo!"

  "Well, nephew, and when will you start?"

  "In six months; I must have the long winter nights to aid me."

  "It shall be as you wish, nephew."

  "It is settled, then, Uncle?"


  "Shall it be kept quiet?"

  "Yes; better so."

  And this is how it was that five months later the steamer _Dolphin_ waslaunched from the Kelvin Dock timber-yards, and no one knew her realdestination.